Warning: the following article contains some spoilers for Fleabag season two
371 days, 19 hours and 26 minutes after we left Fleabag in the café, I thought that was the last time we'd eavesdrop on our wayward heroine. Estranged from her furious family, still drowning in unresolved guilt for best friend Boo and sat with tear-sodden cheeks opposite the man at whom she’d accidentally flashed her bra during a loan application meeting.
Fleabag had just delivered that gut punch of a monologue about how, for some reason, there’s nothing worse than someone who doesn’t want to fuck her. "Either everyone feels like this a little bit and they’re just not talking about it or I am completely fucking alone, which isn’t fucking funny," she told us. We knew she wasn’t alone. We had just inhaled all six episodes of Fleabag’s first series and come out the other side feeling seen, liberated and emotionally exasperated. Season one gave us so much to consider about sex, family, friendship, guilt, relationships and muddling through the harsh realities of life in your 30s, that the prospect of there being any more to give wasn’t even plausible.
I’ll not forgive myself for underestimating Phoebe Waller-Bridge. 371 days, 19 hours and 26 minutes later, Fleabag came back to shag a priest, try the church and teach us a little something about faith. Did you see it coming? Of course not. How could any of us have predicted the six episodes that would follow? In the aftermath of the season two finale, you’ll likely feel lost. The ending was close to perfect. Between the miscarriage, Claire's awful husband, the wedding and yes, the priest, the last ever episode wrapped up more loose ends than anticipated. Fleabag turned her back on us, the friends who she assured therapist Fiona Shaw were "always there". She told us not to follow her and said goodbye with little more than a reassuring smile and wave. Just like that we were catapulted back into the familiarly unsettling light of the real world – without television's wittiest and most resilient protagonist to muddle through it with us.
But there are lessons to take forward into the Fleabag-less abyss. Some big, bold and almost too real lessons that we were taught throughout this magnificent second series and which we will hold on to while we pray that PWB changes her mind and reintroduces us to Fleabag for a third instalment.
We're all as lost as each other
Let's face it. We all have a habit of assuming other people's lives are better than ours. We expect the people who look like they have their lives together to actually be living that way and – newsflash – that's not the case. The proof? Our sweary, gin-drinking, lustful, far from perfect priest, who is struggling just as much as the rest of us to keep a handle on things. Sure, he's got a great thing going with the man upstairs, but that doesn't default him out of the human agony that Fleabag carries with her. The only difference is that (by the end, at least) he's chosen how to live his life and Fleabag is still working that out.
Hair really is everything
Claire's iconic – yes, iconic – jagged pencil haircut was always going to be more than just a haircut, wasn't it. After telling her erratic and funny younger sister that she was jealous of her, not knowing what to do about her unhealthy and upsetting marriage and going through the suppressed trauma of having a miscarriage, she goes to get a haircut to make that change. As ever, it doesn't pan out as she thought it would and when she goes back to complain to hairdresser Anthony, he makes the mistake of trying to tell Claire that hair doesn't mean anything. Enter Fleabag:
"Hair is everything. We wish it wasn’t so we could actually think about something else occasionally," Fleabag tells the salon. "But it is! It’s the difference between a good day and a bad day. We’re meant to think that it’s a symbol of power, that it’s a symbol of fertility. Some people are exploited for it and it pays your fucking bills. Hair is everything."
We're stronger than we're told we are, despite all the pain that comes with it
Isn't one of the most prominent underlying messages of Fleabag about women's resilience? Here we have a woman who's muddling through life as best as she can, getting lost, fucking it up and bouncing back again. But the beauty of Fleabag's exploration of strength is that it forever goes unnoticed which, ironically, only makes Fleabag even hardier than the 'together' people around who consistently tell (read: blame) her for everyone else's problems (we're looking at you here, Godmother, and awful, awful Martin).
Fleabag's and, by extension women's strength is perhaps best summarised in Kristin Scott Thomas's heart-rending speech in episode three. "Women are born with pain built in. It’s our physical destiny – period pains, sore boobs, childbirth. We carry it within ourselves throughout our lives," she tells Fleabag after winning the "Women In Business" award.
Sisterhood is gloriously complicated and beautifully binding
We're no strangers to the common idealised image of family relationships – the type of onscreen scenarios that make you feel just that little bit let down by the family you have around you. Fleabag has never been that way oriented of course, and though their relationship has perhaps been the most turbulent (hilariously so), it's Claire and Fleabag's dynamic that has brought the most to the table. It might be Fleabag breaking the fourth wall to predict what erratic thing Claire will do next, but Claire does exactly the same thing to Fleabag directly. They are as intertwined as they are catastrophically opposed on so many levels but none of that really matters.
The arguments, the needless shouting matches and even Claire's assertion that "we're not friends. We're sisters" might cut deep, but they don't mean a thing. It's all wiped clean by Fleabag's persistent covering for her big sister, by Claire's secret admiration for her younger sister, and the fact that the last thing we see Claire tell Fleabag is "the only person I'd run through the airport for is you".
The line between what's good and bad for you is very, very thin
Did we mention the priest? I don't think any of us could come up with a more perfect way to toy with the simple premise of right and wrong. Nothing that supersedes falling for a priest who clearly fancies you too but is (initially) adamant that nothing can, nor should, happen between the two of you. "Tell me what to do before I fuck a priest and get arrested," Fleabag pleads with the therapist. Of course, she already knows what she's going to do. She's going to have sex with the hot priest despite what anyone else says. Our gut instinct is confused by the fact that it's probably not the best idea, no, but is it the worst? Is it really that bad to sleep with someone you fancy after roughly 371 days of forced abstinence to bury your guilt about shagging your best friend's boyfriend? Regardless of where the line is, Fleabag crossed it and felt the exhilarating ups just as quickly as she felt the downs. But I guess the real point is that she survived it regardless.
You don't have to understand love to be worthy of it
Here's the thing. For most of the Fleabag experience, love is a joke that we're in on. The concept is patronisingly acknowledged, sarcastically accepted and nonexistent in the fairytale sense that we're used to watching. "This is a love story," Fleabag announces to us after being punched in the nose by her stringent sister's arrogant husband, at a meal to celebrate her father's engagement to her spiteful godmother. Lol at love, she's telling us. So we do. We chuckle at the irony of them all raising their glasses to love at the dinner table. We smirk dismissively with Fleabag when the therapist asks if she's in love with the priest she wants to have sex with. Don't be ridiculous.
Until this season we'd known Fleabag as the woman who rejected love because she didn't quite know what to do with it outside of sex, and even that wasn't really working out. It wasn't until the flashbacks to Fleabag's mother's funeral three years ago, the chasm that triggered her grief spiral even before Boo's death, that we hear our protagonist talk about this love thing honestly. "I have all this love for her and I don't know what to do with it," Fleabag tells Boo of her late mother. Boo offers to take it, they laugh at the half joke of the proposal but later Fleabag does give it to her. But then more time passes and Boo is gone too. It's devastating in so many ways and it's not until our sexy priest lands in the picture, giving Fleabag the time of day when those remaining friends and family haven't bothered, that she realises deep down that even though it doesn't always make sense, she's allowed to love and be loved, too.
Deep, isn't it? And sure, Fleabag doesn't get a traditional happily ever after with the priest, but she tells him she loves him – and that's huge! The real clincher comes at the tail end of Fleabag's heart-to-heart with her dad on his wedding day, though. It's the first time since her mother dying that they really see each other and he says: "I think you know how to love better than any of us. That's why you find it all so painful."